Orlando City led early but couldn’t keep the ball in the second half and eventually succumbed to pressure, losing 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Stadium. Dom Dwyer’s early goal was canceled out by strikes by Alberth Elis and Christian Ramirez just three minutes apart in the second half as Orlando (9-14-9, 36 points) made it six straight games without a win (0-3-3). Houston (11-16-4, 37 points) got its third result in six matches under Davy Arnaud.
Orlando fell to 1-2-2 against the Dynamo in the all-time series and 1-2-0 in Houston. The loss, coupled with New England’s draw, doesn’t quite officially eliminate the Lions from the postseason but a whole lot of chaos would need to ensue for the miracle of a playoff berth to materialize.
James O’Connor’s side played a 4-3-3 with playmakers Nani and Mauricio Pereyra on the wings with Dwyer up top. Will Johnson returned to the midfield with Cristian Higuita and Sebas Mendez. Kamal Miller took over at left back with the three usual starters on the back line — Robin Jansson, Lamine Sané, and Ruan — in front of Brian Rowe.
It didn’t take long for the Lions to get on the board. Orlando City scored its earliest goal from the start of the game all season just six minutes into the game.
Higuita was chopped down by Oscar Boniek Garcia, giving Orlando a free kick to the right side. Pereyra made a gorgeous delivery and Dwyer headed it back across the grain inside the back post to make it 1-0.
It was Dom’s second goal in as many games and both were on headers. It was also the first goal that an Orlando player has scored in this series. Previously, the only goal for the Lions was an own goal by Tyler Deric in 2015. Orlando City had been shut out in each of the last three meetings entering tonight.
There were other actions in the remaining 39 minutes of the first half aside from Houston corner kicks but it might not have seemed like it. The Dynamo racked up corner after corner, finishing the game with a 13-5 advantage in that category.
Despite that, the Dynamo weren’t very menacing on those corners. One ended up fizzing through the six in the 13th minute and any touch would have put it in the net, but it went out the other side.
Dwyer smashed a shot with power in the 19th from just outside the area that forced a save from Joe Willis. The striker was Orlando’s only real threat all night, firing five of the team’s seven shot attempts and getting all three of the team’s shots on target on the evening.
Rowe’s outlet sprung a 25th-minute counter, with Nani getting down the left flank. He tried to cross into the middle for Ruan but the defense got a touch on the cross to snuff out the chance. Houston came right back down and Jansson had to block a shot from Mauro Manotas at the other end.
Orlando fashioned a couple of half chances before Houston won a free kick on a soft foul by Sané — and nearly scored on it. A cross to the back post cleared Miller and found Maynor Figueroa, who headed one toward the near corner. Rowe made a good reaction save to keep it out in the 37th minute.
That was the last good opportunity for either side in the opening period and the Lions went into the locker room with their slim lead.
Houston led in shots (5-3), although both team got two on target. Orlando held 53% of the possession, with much of that just taking the air out of the game and kicking it around the back and not really doing much meaningful in the attacking end. The Lions were slightly more accurate in passing (87%-86%).
Bad news came at the break as the television broadcast announced that Higuita was suffering from his tricky adductor muscle and would need to sub off early in the second half.
Orlando tried to double the lead in the 50th as Pereyra was sent on essentially a one-man counter attack. Nani joined him late and Pereyra tried to thread the captain through on goal but a hustling play by DaMarcus Beasley broke up the play at the last second.
Dwyer did some emergency defending in the 55th minute on a set piece, clearing a shot off the line.
Shortly thereafter, O’Connor was forced to make two changes due to fitness. Higuita was replaced by Carlos Ascues and Tesho Akindele came on for Pereyra, as both starters were laboring. But the biggest change was Houston introducing Memo Rodriguez for Tommy McNamara, and the young Dynamo attacker changed the complexion of the game with his quickness and creativity.
The warning signs started before the subs, as Orlando was unable to break out of its own end. Balls were fired forward to an outnumbered Dwyer, Houston recycled, and the Dynamo came forward to apply pressure again and again. It wasn’t sustainable and eventually the breakthrough came.
Elis beat Miller to a cross from Ramirez and headed it home to make it 1-1 in the 70th minute. The play began with a sliding challenge by Sané and the ball pinballed out to Ramirez on the left. His cross was perfect and Elis didn’t miss.
Rowe saved Mendez some embarrassment in the 72nd minute after the Ecuador international turned the ball over in his own end. Rodriguez fired and Rowe was there to stop it. But the Dynamo took the lead a minute later anyway.
Houston had a long clearance that fell perfectly for the Dynamo to break. Manotas made a nice move to lose Ruan, then crossed over to Ramirez for a tap-in while Jansson defended air on the goal line.
Dwyer had the best opportunity to pull Orlando back level in the 77th minute. Nani fed a through ball and the striker had a tough angle — on his weaker right foot — but he smashed one hard at the net to force a save from Willis. Dwyer then headed the ensuing corner kick cross over the bar but he did well to even get something toward the net on the play.
From there the Lions just lacked the final bit of quality and Willis came up big. Ascues sent a curling shot through the area that Willis was able to save. The rebound fell for Ruan, who also saw his shot save but that part of the play was ruled offside.
Nani sent a free kick toward goal in the 84th but Willis got down to make the save and held on as Dwyer closed in. A minute later Chris Mueller checked in for Mendez but that was too little, too late. In the 89th minute Miller sent a great ball up the left for Akindele, who crossed in for Dwyer but the pass was just off and the defense recovered. Akindele saw another cross smothered by Willis and Dwyer had a shot blocked and that was that.
Houston out-shot the Lions (15-7), and had more shots on target (6-3). remarkably, Orlando held more of the possession (52%) but little of it seemed to be in the attacking half. Both teams passed at an 86% rate.
Orlando now has to win its final two games and get lots and lots of help. Any point by New England would eliminate City from the playoffs. But I wouldn’t put any money down on the Lions getting through with the team now having gone six straight without tasting victory.
The Lions continue on the road next Sunday when they make their first trip to play FC Cincinnati.